“Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out.” Leviticus 6:13
There is no such thing as an offering without a fire, at least not by Your standards, God. In Leviticus, You say, “The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. Sometimes the test of Your acceptance of an offering was whether You fully consumed it by fire or not. It’s not until Leviticus 9 that the priests begin their ministry. And Moses and Aaron obey the Lord in preparing the sacrifices, they come out of the tent of meeting, bless the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Then, to affirm Your approval of the sacrifices, a “fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.”(Leviticus 9:24)
It’s not like You share this Old Testament stuff with us just because it’s archaic and outdated and we need to know some historical facts and ways You used to act. You share this stuff with us because You are the same God yesterday, today, and always. You still have a standard, which is Yours, for what You require in a sacrifice. You still have a standard, which is Yours in the heart of the sacrifice we bring. You still have a standard for the depth and the length and the height of that sacrifice. And if we weren’t so afraid of sacrifices being about trusting in works, we could start understanding the real message of the sacrifices that You intended.
I need to know, and we all need to know that there is an authorized, acceptable sacrifice. There is a sacrifice that is commanded by You. Nothing else is acceptable. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, found that out the hard way. I suppose it was pretty exciting and powerful to see the way that fire came from You, God, and just consumed that offering. And I suppose for those who are impressed and desirous of power, more than a right relationship, it’s pretty tempting. So Nadab and Abihu, “each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them.” (Leviticus 10:1) And what happened? Exactly what they were looking for, only not the way they were expecting. “…[F]ire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” And Moses’ response to their father, Aaron was, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” Wow, pretty harsh, huh?
But here’s the thing. The sacrifices were established by You, God, as a way to allow man, you know, us humans, to draw near to You again. This was a way for You to draw us near and sanctify us. This was a way for us to demonstrate our relationship with You and Your relationship with us. You are the only God who draws near to His people and asks His people to draw near to Him. How did that work?
How in the world was slaughtering an animal about drawing near to You, God? And how does that consuming fire comfort me instead of making me cower in fear? These are good questions. It’s ok to ask You questions. After all, unless we receive the kingdom of God like a child we won’t enter it. (Luke 18:17) And my little children asked lots of questions and they didn’t ask me from far away. We were close, sometimes they were on my lap. Heck, they’re grown and we still like to cuddle up next to each other. Yeah, children who love and trust their parents ask them things and their parents who love them take the time to answer.
Let’s just look at the tabernacle and answer some questions there. See, even the tabernacle, the tent of meeting (about meeting with God), was a combination of physical and spiritual. The tabernacle was constructed from stuff obtained from the Egyptians when the Israelites fled. But the instructions for the tabernacle were spiritual, God-given to Moses on the mount. He came down with these physical commandments written on stones, but he came down with the instructions for the tabernacle within his mind straight from God. Then God gave two other men knowledge of how to build the physical to meet His spiritual standards.
When all was built and the instructions for the offerings given, You invited the priests to sit at the entrance of the tent of meeting and eat. This was the place where You met with them, where the physical and spiritual joined. A little more about the tent of meeting. Outside was a rectangular court that all could enter. It was 100 cubits long but it was divided into two 50 by 50 cubit squares. It was surrounded by posts with white linen hangings like curtains. It was open to the elements with a grass, dirt, and sand floor. Here was the bronze altar where the sacrifice was burned and the bronze laver with the water for washing. Think of it as representing the physical aspect.
If we continue further, we are taken to the entrance of the tent of meeting, covered with animal skin. This tent consisted of two rooms. The first room that the priests would enter was the Holy place which consisted of the table of showbread, the menorah, and the altar of incense. Behind that was a cubicle room called the Holy of Holies that only the high priest could enter and only one day of the year, Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. Within this room was the ark of the covenant which was the seat where Your presence, God, would appear.
Now this tent was a representation of the spiritual, of the hidden, of the out of sight. It was wood covered by beautiful gold. The ceiling was covered with scarlet and purple and blue and embroidered with cherubim. Every aspect pointed to Your presence, God, and preparation for Your presence.
It’s funny. Sometimes we get so focussed on the physical, we think that’s all there is. And sometimes, we get so focussed on the spiritual, that we loose sight of the physical. The whole sacrificial system was Your reminder to us that You designed us to balance both in You. If You didn’t care for us to think about this stuff in Leviticus, why does Paul tell us, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19)? Maybe we need to understand how You put the physical and spiritual together. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve got some things wrong about how to be temples just like some of the Jews had the sacrificial system wrong. It’s not an error in Your required sacrifice or in Your tabernacle design. The error is always in our understanding. And we won’t understand if we don’t look and we don’t take time to ask You.
See, we are physical creatures created to be filled spiritually. As temples, created in Your image, God, we can be filled in our Holy of Holies with You or we can be empty there. When You breathed into Adam’s nostrils, and Adam became a living soul, You placed the spiritual into the physical.
We’re called tabernacles of the Holy Spirit. We are the place where the spiritual and physical meet. This is where all our problems come from too. Our Holy of Holies can be filled with You, God, or empty. You breathed into Adam’s nostrils life, and Adam became a living soul. You placed the spiritual into the physical. When James warns us in 1:8 about the double-minded man, that he is unstable, he’s warning us about the man who has that balance all wrong. In James 4:8 he tells us the solution, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” We can only get our spiritual and physical act together if we draw near to You, God, and we can only draw near to You, Your way, and Your way is through Jesus, by faith.
Bringing a sacrifice was about identifying with that sacrifice. It wasn’t intended as a light ritual. That sacrifice gave its life for something meaningful. It could have been left home to die naturally, or by a preditor, or by disease, or for dinner, but then it’s death wouldn’t have had the same meaning. The one who brought the sacrifice, was bringing it to stand in for himself. He laid his hands upon that sacrifice and prayed as though it was himself being asked to pay the penalty of death. But this sacrifice was taking his place. To the one who understood, to the one who cared about his condition before God, this was mercy, this was grace. To ignore the sacrifice would be to choose life without You, God. To choose the sacrifice would be choose life with You, God. To choose death of the sacrifice was to choose life with You, God. To choose to avoid death would be to choose the absence of You, God.
This was never meant to be external. The spiritual and physical come into contact inside of you. Luke 17:21 reminds us “the kingdom of God is within you.” I apply all that Jesus is inside me both physically and spiritually. That’s what should have transpired walking away after the sacrifice. Look at Jesus. Look at the life He lived. He was spiritual because He was God, yet He was physical because He was man. How did He combine the two? “I must be about my Father’s business.” Therefore, His spiritual rules apply within my physical temple and to all that is mine. I must apply God’s will to myself. I can choose to rule over myself and allow Him to rule over me and live by His rule. I can control my temple in Him. Just as Jesus applied the love of God to others, so can I. Just as Jesus reached out and touched others, so should I. Just as Jesus sought out the lost and found them so that He could restore them to right relationship with His Father, so ought I.
Now, jumping back to things of the temple. There was something else that was the same shape as the outer court. It was the breastplate that the priests wore. It was also a rectangle, folded in half to make two squares when worn to cover the priest’s front and back. And where it came together were the urim and tumim. No one today is quite sure of exactly what the urim and tumim were, but we do know that somehow they gave answers to questions asked of God. Isn’t that interesting that God made a way for priests to know His will? Just a side note here but urim starts with aleph, the “alpha” in the alphabet, and tumim is the omega. Lots of pictures here, aren’t there? See, God brings together the physical and the spiritual in us and that is how He speaks. He designed us to be spoken through and spoken to. I mean, there are lots of ways God speaks, even through nature, but we are the most visible and vocal expression of Him. Do I get that? I am Your temple where You make Your presence known.
Most people aren’t going to just run and pick up a Bible first thing. But they are going to see us. Paul said, “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: forasmuch as you are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” (2 Corinthians 3:2) You and I are the living epistle of God that people will see. So what do they see? Do they see someone delighting in God and in everything He has laid before us, whether it’s in our marriage, our job, our recreation, our situations, or how we love? This is something unique to human beings and God designed it that way. When people see me, what kind of temple am I inviting them into. What will they know of You, God, from me?
God is restoring us to right relationship. But right relationship is truly relational. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But the thing is, we have a hard time remembering that we have to look at things through Your perspective, God. We always try to see things through our perspective, but our perspective is severely flawed. And we can only see through Your perspective if You open our eyes to see it. The more we look at what You shared, the more You’ll open our eyes. There’s symbolism there for our benefit. Even down to the “ickiness” of blood from the sacrifice being placed on the priest’s ear. It was placed on his right ear, right thumb, and right toe, not the left. Why? Because the right represents spiritual things and the left, the physical. It’s not that the physical is bad. It’s just physical, what’s seen and tangible, and not so eternal. The physical needs the spiritual. It wasn’t created to stand on it’s own. It can’t; it’s not eternal.
Even the placement of objects in the tabernacle according to compass direction is significant. In the Middle East, east is at the top instead of north. It’s the word for head and west is behind. On the left of the holy chamber is the showbread, pointing to our physical, our body. To the right is the menorah which represents light or the spiritual; after all, scientists don’t even fully understand it’s workings. We need to understand all this from God’s view.
We could even look at Israel. Look at northern Israel. It’s beautiful and lush. All your physical needs are met. Then look at southern Israel. It’s a desert, it’s where people go to pray, it’s the spiritual. It’s where Jesus went to fast for 40 days and 40 nights. But we were never intended to only stay in one area. Here’s something interesting I heard. If you go far enough south from Israel, you come to Egypt. You can go too far spiritually. There is a caution to stay in the boundaries of God’s word. If you keep going, here’s the problem, you cross out of Israel and into occultism and spiritual darkness. Why? Because God created the physical and spiritual to work together. Jesus even prayed for us concerning this. “I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sactify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:15-18) Jesus didn’t stay in the desert. He relied on His spiritual relationship to pursue physical relationships with those in the world. It was His spiritual strength that allowed Him to meet people’s physical and emotional needs. If I am to be spiritual, my life must be lived in relationship with others, demonstrating physically the power of the spiritual relationship I have with You, God. Then I become a living epistle to others. Then I become the image of Christ. Then You develop Your likeness in me.
The priest was where the spiritual and physical came together. And priests weren’t just for the tabernacle and now they’re gone. Peter shared God’s perspective on the priesthood. “As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:4,5,9) The priesthood is for now. Then, they were to be demonstrating the will and perspective of God. Now, we are still called to demonstrate the will and perpective of You, God, in our lives. It was never intended to only be lived out in the tabernacle. It was intended to be lived out in the tabernacle, in our neighborhood, in our home, in our world. And now ought to be an even clearer picture since the temple is me, and I am fully portable! The sacrifice is my life, and I’m a fully visible image.
In Genesis 1:26 and 27, You defined the purpose for humans. You said, “‘Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Humans were created to be a representative figure of the God who created us. We were to be like a “phantom” image of Him, an illusion to Him, to resemble Him. But here’s the thing, an idol is also a representative figure. And that’s what we become when we leave Him out of our perspective. I become an empty idol of something that isn’t even really God. Instead of representing You, we often choose to represent ourselves. It’s not what we were created for.
We were created to bear Your image, to resemble You but that only comes when we choose to accept Your likeness. There are lots of people who have this shadowy image of You, God. Actually, all men are created with that image. It’s why every life is valuable because every life was created to shine forth You as Your holy vessel. Yet only those who learn to let You have their whole lives and all that is theirs ever learn to be formed in Your likeness. A likeness is different than an image. A likeness is a resemblance also, but it is a concrete model. You can see it and touch it and it is just like the original in fashion and manner and similitude. That’s not an idol, an empty representation. It’s a walking, living, breathing example.
I don’t like blood and gore. I don’t like hard, difficult things. But life and death would be a lot more terrible if I had to experience them without Your grace and redemption that comes through these difficult things. I can’t forget that life was honky dory, so to speak, in the beginning for Adam and Eve. They walked in absolute fellowship with You. That was the perfect choice with no blood and gore and no difficult stuff in life. But even though that was truth and that is where they were, they chose something else when it was presented to them. The serpent enters the scene and presents another choice where life wasn’t just about fellowship with You, God. Here came the first fork in the road. I have a choice. Wow! I can choose. Isn’t that wonderful? I can choose God and the tree of life, or I can choose to know things myself and choose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It’s no longer a matter of relationship. Now it’s all a matter of choice. Isn’t that great?
Really? Is choice better than relationship? Every time we come to one of these so called forks-in-the-road, we have to live to one choice and die to the other. If I choose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, I have to die to the tree of life. If I choose the tree of life, then I must die to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Choice means I always have to die to something I want to have the other. I can’t eat both. Choosing one means going against the other. Death didn’t enter after Adam and Eve sinned. Death enters with our choice to choose something over fellowship with You, God. That’s death, separation from a God who designed us to live in fellowship with Him. That’s the total opposite of what we were created for. In order to be in Your likeness, I have to die to everything else. I must choose You. I must choose a relationship with You. That’s what the sacrifices were reminding us. They remind us of what it is to draw near to You and the price we pay to choose anything else. I can only grow into Your likeness by choosing to go through the door of death of my own desires and choose You and Yours.
This is so necessary that before time began, You, God, had already determined that Christ would be the one sacrifice for all time who could truly redeem Your creation to You. We were ransomed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:19-21) We must choose Him and die to self, and die to any other option. We must say no to other things.
Sacrifices were always about giving myself to God. I can choose to live like the walking dead, like an empty temple, or I can choose to be a living sacrifice. I can let death control me or I can let God have control. I’m bought with a price. That price is worth giving my future, my talents, my weaknesses, my finances, my relationships, my future relationships, my schedule, my family, my everything to God. I can waste my life or let God repair it. I can walk as a dead man and in fear, or I can die to fear and as the walking dead, as a total believer who has been animated by His life, I can allow You, God, to determine what You want to do with this sacrifice of me.
Scripture says that You are a consuming fire. That’s a scary thing for those who aren’t already dead. But Jesus, You layed down Your life willingly out of complete and total love for us. You received the full wrath of God, that consuming fire that we should have received. I’m asked to lay down my life willingly out of complete and total love for You. I must choose death to other things. I must choose life in You. This is my free choice. I can live according to my flesh or spirit. Or, I can allow the spiritual and physical to come together. I can submit my flesh to Your spirit. I can die to self and my desires and live to You.
I can die to what I want and live to Your desires. I can delight myself in the Lord and understand the beauty of sacrifice. Lord, make me an acceptable sacrifice. May I so delight in You that I would be willing to die to everything of me and of the world that is not of You. May I not only be created after Your image, but will You, please, build me into Your likeness as I continue to learn to surrender to You and die to self more and more every day as You place choices before me in my life. May our relationship always be the deciding force in every choice I make.